If you thought moving to a new home was hard – with all the packing, changing addresses on your bills, co-ordinating movers and getting rid of junk you don't use any more – try relocating your corporate office.
"It's absolutely exhausting," says Jane French, who, as executive vice-president of operations at Northern Lights Direct, has overseen three office moves at the rapidly growing multimedia marketing company.
"I did everything with my assistant," Ms. French says. "But there's always so much more going on than just the move, and I'm not well versed in dealing with movers, so I found it a challenge."
In early 2010, when the company decided to move into 8,000 square feet on two floors of a building purchased in downtown Toronto, Ms. French decided enough was enough and brought in Sally Talbot, a corporate relocation specialist. A choice, she says, that made the transition so much smoother.
"Because I've done so many moves before, when we met with Sally I could tell that she knew what she was doing," Ms. French says. "She came to the office, glanced around and said how long it would take just by looking at the space."
Handling about 20 relocations a year for the past seven years, Ms. Talbot has guided moves of all stripes – from relocating five floors of library and offices at the University of Toronto in an intense 24-hour move, to a detailed relocation for architectural consulting firm Stantec, and floor-to-floor moves for growing small businesses.
While most firms that don't hire a specialist like her are able to muddle through, she says, "often there are extensive cost overrides." Usually an executive assistant or facilities manager will be given the responsibility of planning the move. "Yet you can't expect a person without experience to know the questions to ask," Ms. Talbot says.
"It can become very overwhelming co-ordinating books, workstations, furniture, computers, files, supplies and stationary."
Financial constraints, however, are one reason companies decide not to take on a third-party consultant, says Seth Kursman, vice-president of corporate communications at AbitibiBowater Inc.
Last year, after restructuring and emerging from bankruptcy protection, the company relocated from a Class A office in downtown Montreal to 50,000 square feet of less costly space in the city's Old Port.
"We needed to have office space that reinforces the culture of the company," he says. "The space here is much more conducive to teamwork, since there are many more open work areas."
"Moving is not inexpensive and was a big undertaking that took a number of months," Mr. Kursman notes. "A lot of companies move and employees have things boxed and unboxed for them. Here, everyone had to pitch in and pack their office. It was very much a team effort. I had to come to my new office and decide what the layout was going to be."
Yet the cost of a consultant can be worth it, Ms. French says. "I've heard of companies who have given IT a month's notice about a move. I say they're nuts. It's unbelievable how much time it takes to organize."
Clients can use all of a corporate relocation consultant's services or select a few, putting pricing on a sliding scale. "A move can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000. It depends what the client wants done," Ms. Talbot says, "but it's roughly $75 to $120 per employee."
"When we hired Sally Talbot, we wanted to know how much the move would cost and asked her to do a line-by-line budget," Ms. French says. "Just by hiring her and giving her free rein once we got the budget nailed down allowed me to focus on the business."
Still, the starting point for every move is a meeting three to four months in advance between the relocation consultant, the company's information technology department, senior management and an employee chosen as the move captain.
It's essential to involve IT communications right off the bat. "Servers are the most important things I usually move," Ms. Talbot says. "If we don't have IT this day and age, we have nothing."
Selecting an employee to head the move within the organization is important and is less about organizing and scheduling than putting the consultant in touch with the right people internally. "They're the person who's going to introduce me to the staff and let me know about the culture of the company and how their communications work," Ms. Talbot says. "However, the move captain doesn't have the knowledge of the moving industry and the importance of scheduling and communication that I've developed."
Before starting her own business as a consultant, Ms. Talbot worked for one of Canada's largest moving companies, AMJ Campbell. "The most expensive part of the move, for us, was the movers," Ms. French says. "A lot of companies often hire the cheapest movers they can get. That's a big mistake, since they're responsible for your equipment."
Putting together a request for proposal, sending it to leading companies in the moving industry and negotiating to get competitive pricing is a key task handled by relocation consultants. However, firms can expect to pay $75 per employee to move contents and computers or $350 per employee to relocate contents, computers, workstations, meeting rooms, offices, lateral files and storage cabinets.
The high cost highlights the importance of purging during an office move. "If you have something that is 10 years old and you haven't looked at it in ages, it leads you to ask why you still have it," Ms. Talbot adds.
"Moving to the new office was a cultural change for us," Mr. Kursman says. "So it was a nice opportunity to go through our things and throw out three-quarters of the stuff that we don't need any more."
During this process, Ms. Talbot says she encourages companies to rethink some of the ways they operate. "A community health centre I'm working with right now wanted a whole bunch of slots for forms," she says. "Instead of buying new equipment, I came up with a plan to have them printed out as needed."
"A move is an ideal time to purge and think about your operation," she says. "A consultant can help give you a fresh start."
What should go right – and what can go wrong – during an office move.
1. After a mover accidentally set off the building sprinkler system by bumping into it with an upended desk, Ms. Talbot had to call in a disaster cleanup team to save the soaked furniture. Ensure your moving company has insurance that will cover your equipment.
2. Companies often don't budget enough for a move. New furniture is expensive and so is disposing of old office chairs. Set aside enough by doing a line-by-line budget.
3. Moving trucks can break down, so can your computer equipment and things can get lost in the move. Make sure you have backups of important files and be sure to double check offices once they've been emptied.
4. Understand the importance of the order of things. Move carpets before desks and desks before computers. Schedule each to leave and arrive in order.
5. Some employees will be inclined to resist change, may become anxious and won't be packed on time. Allay their fears by keeping them in the loop with updates and solid timelines.
6. Co-ordinating with IT in your new space is a top priority. Without phone and computer systems, how will you connect with your clients?